Record Orange-bellied Parrot numbers return to Melaleuca

​​​​​Now the year is drawing to a close, the Orange-bellied Parrot (OBP) Tasmanian Program has released this year’s census with some record results. Seventy-four OBPs have returned to Melaleuca which is a record number of birds. These numbers are a slight increase from last year’s record of 70.

This milestone builds upon years of captive breeding and release efforts, undertaken by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (NRE Tas) and the Recovery Team partners along with successful breeding in the wild population.

During the last breeding season, the number of nests and the proportion of birds that​ remained at Melaleuca to the end of the season was lower than expected, but to see such a high number of returns for the December 2022 Census is an exciting outcome.

This year’s OBP Census reveals that of the 74 Orange-bellied Parrots returning this year, 31 are female and 43 are male. Importantly, all females will have an opportunity for mate selection and to breed as there are more females than males. 

Forty-four of the returned birds are wild born birds with 23 of these in their first year. The remaining 30 birds are captive-bred birds released as juveniles and 20 of these are in their first year. The number of captive-bred birds has increased from 22 to 30 this year and in part this explains the high number of returned birds this year. 

First fledglings at Five Mile Beach for December 2022

The OPB Tasmania Program has now seen several good years of migration home to Melaleuca for the breeding season which is an encouraging sign of recovery for the Orange-bellied Parrot population.

The 74 returnees were supplemented by the release of 26 captive-bred birds from the Five Mile Beach, Healesville Sanctuary and Moonlit Sanctuary (VIC) breeding facilities that were released to the wild during Spring 2022.

Breeding is now underway at Melaleuca, with nest monitoring to commence in January 2023.

Captive-bred birds play an important part in the efforts to achieve a viable population in the wild, providing an insurance population and releasing birds during spring to balance the sex ratio and supplement the number of breeding pairs, and in autumn to increase the size of the migrating flock. The release of captive-bred birds was integral to building the population back up from 17 to the current size of 74.

NRE Tas maintains the largest captive insurance population in the country, with the $2.5 million purpose-built Five Mile Beach facility able to hold more than 300 birds.

The Recovery Team’s work, supported by the work of dedicated volunteers, in Tasmania is essential for preventing extinction in the wild and supporting the work of National Recovery Team colleagues and interstate partners to identify and address causes of mortality during migration and over the winter period on the mainland.